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Thursday, December 26, 2019

A requiem for Indian secularism?

As 2019 draws to a close and we look back at the events of the past year, reflect upon the gains and the losses and the lessons learnt, the one issue that is impossible to ignore is the rapid decline of secularism in India.

The Modi regime, backed by a solid parliamentary majority it got in 2019, has set into motion changes that have fundamentally altered India by forcibly extinguishing its secular ethos.

Although, India proudly claims to be the largest democracy in the world, democracy in India has largely been confined to the successful holding of elections.

For democracy to be meaningful, adherence to other sacrosanct principles of democracy are necessary. These principles include respect for democratic institutions, a legislature that engages in meaningful debate, independent judiciary, a free and thriving media that encourages debate and dissent.

Under the new Modi regime, democratic norms have been severe constricted. Today, India under Modi has no patience for secular principles and is keen to enforce aggressive majoritarianism.

Two events that demonstrated this tendency are:

  • The lockdown in Kashmir
  • The passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act and the implementation of the National Register of Citizens.
The Modi regime found a semblance of support for its assertive moves in Kashmir, primarily because many in India believe that the stalemate in Kashmir needs to be resolved. And if old methods haven’t yielded results in the last seven decades, new methods must be tried.

However, the lockdown of the state and its people since August 2019 is unacceptable, and a gross violation of people’s rights to freedom.

When the exercise of identifying illegal immigrants was launched in Assam after Modi was reelected, it raised legitimate concerns because New Delhi now had a government that swore by majoritarianism, and was not above using the state’s enormous reach to propagate its exclusivist philosophy of aggressive Hindutva.

Pertinently, the exercise of implementing the NRC in Assam proved how difficult, if not impossible, it would be for a large number of people to prove their Indian citizenship. Nearly two million people (including Hindus) could not prove that they were Indians. 

Perhaps in recognition of the anomaly that the NRC would result in the exclusion of Hindus, as well, the Modi regime amended the citizenship act to accord citizenship rights to non-Muslim immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Modi’s supporters may claim that the amendment is to help minorities in these countries emigrate to India. But the fact is that the purpose of both the NRC and the amended citizenship act is to exclude Muslims.

Amit Shah, India’s Home Minister and the second-most important minister in the Modi regime openly declared that the citizenship register would be implemented across India to ferret out illegal immigrants.

“It is our commitment to implement National Register of Citizens (NRC) across the country to weed out the infiltrators. First, we will bring the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill to ensure that eligible refugees get citizenship, and then we will introduce NRC to throw out the infiltrators. They are termites, they are eating into the country's resources,” Shah asserted.

He declared in the Indian Parliament, “Maan ke chaliye, NRC aane wala hai.” (Take it as a given that the NRC will be introduced across the country).

In July 2019, when the implementation of the National Citizens Register was launched in Assam, the following protest poem, “I am a Miya’ written by Hafiz Ahmed spread like wildfire on the internet.

Write Down ‘I am a Miya’

Write Down
I am a Miya
My serial number in the NRC is 200543
I have two children
Another is coming
Next summer.
Will you hate him
As you hate me?

I am a Miya
I turn waste, marshy lands
To green paddy fields
To feed you.
I carry bricks
To build your buildings
Drive your car
For your comfort
Clean your drain
To keep you healthy.
I have always been
In your service
And yet
you are dissatisfied!

Write down
I am a Miya,
A citizen of a democratic, secular, Republic
Without any rights
My mother a D voter,
Though her parents are Indian.

If you wish kill me, drive me from my village,
Snatch my green fields
hire bulldozers
To roll over me.
Your bullets
Can shatter my breast
for no crime.

I am a Miya
Of the Brahamaputra
Your torture
Has burnt my body black
Reddened my eyes with fire.
I have nothing but anger in stock.
Keep away!
Turn to Ashes.

Translated by Shalim M. Hussain

Will this protest poem be a requiem for India’s secularism?

The internet informs me that a requiem “is a religious ceremony performed for the dead. ... The word requiem comes from the opening words of the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead, which is spoken or sung in Latin (requies means “rest”).

In a nonreligious context the word refers simply to an act of remembrance.”

Some of the biggest composers of western classical music have composed requiems, and one of the most memorable compositions is Clint Mansell’s Lux Aeterna for Darren Aronofsky’s 2000 film Requiem for a Dream

(You may listen to it here: Clint Mansell – Lux Aeterna – Requiem for a Dream).

'I am a Miya' will be a requiem for Indian secularism if the world allows India’s Modi regime to continue with its persecution of Indian Muslims.

Watch the video here: